Demonology is a sadly neglected topic in the modern Reformed Church. Part of the reason may be an overreaction to the sensationalist and heretical demonology found in some charismatic groups, as illustrated in Powlison's somewhat reactionary (but still very helpful) book, Power Encounters. Some have neglected the topic because they believe that all demons were bound by the ministry of Jesus in the first century. Other pastors may not believe it is a very pressing issue in America, but given that half of Christians in America do not believe in Satan or demons it is a topic that must be taught. Certainly the Reformers took the demonic very seriously, as did the Puritans. For the finest extensive treatment available to date of our spiritual war with the world, the flesh, and the devil, see the abridged three volume version of William Gurnall's famous treatise, The Christian in Complete Armor. Perhaps a close second would be that by the Puritan preacher, John Downame, The Christian Warfare Against the Devil, World and Flesh.
Demons are real and they are powerful
Demons are real, and to fail to resist them is to already be losing the fight. An awareness of their nature and their work can help us in our spiritual warfare, and what better place to begin than with the instruction of the Lord Jesus Christ in Luke 11:14-28. Today I will focus on the nature of these beings.
The personality of demons
Luke 11 gives many indicators that demons are real beings with personality.
Demons can talk (v. 24) and communicate with other demons (v. 26)
Verse 24 records a sentence that one demon spoke. Verse 26 shows eight demons communicating with each other. Other passages show demons communicating with Christ and speaking through the vocal chords of the individual. But with or without bodies, they can communicate. Verse 24 has this demon speaking even though he is not in a human body. All of these indicators show that demons are not merely powers or emanations. They are creatures that have rationality and language. And they use that communication against Christ’s kingdom. Don’t think that other demons don’t find out about the things that your church is doing. There are plenty of demonic informants who gather and disseminate information about the church and its members.
As one example, Acts 19:15 talks about the sons of Sceva. These unbelievers saw Paul casting out demons in the name of Jesus, and so they tried it. They said to the demon, "We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches." And the demon said, "Jesus I know and Paul I know, but who are you?" And the demon proceded to tear at the sons of Sceva. But I find that phrase interesting - the demon said, “Paul I know.” I’m sure there had been talk about Paul. Any time a Christian is having an impact against Satan’s kingdom, you can guarantee that the word is spread rapidly through the ranks of demons. Any time Christians are failing to have an impact and are showing weakness and vulnerability, you can be certain that the demons are communicating with each other and wanting to take advantage of that weakness.
Demons have self-consciousness
Second, demons have self-consciousness. This can be seen in a number of ways in Luke 11:
They speak in the first person ("I" in v. 24)
The demon in verse 24 speaks in the first person saying, "I will return to my house from which I came." He is talking to himself or soliloquizing. That speaks of self-consciousness, a characteristic of personality.
They can remember and make plans (v. 24)
Furthermore, this demon is remembering things from the past and making plans for the future. The demons that have been assigned to attack you probably know more about your past than you do, unless you have used spiritual warfare to keep them at bay and at a distance. And they strategize and make plans concerning you.
Even if there is nothing you have personally done to give demons access to your home or your church, demons remember the past and can take advantage of legal ground your ancestors have given. It used to be standard practice for new believers to renounce their own sins and the sins of their ancestors when they became a Christian and to renounce Satan's jurisdiction in their lives. This is not done today, so demons can continue to visit the sins of the ancestors into our lives - unless those sins and demons are renounced and removed by the blood of Christ.
They can get frustrated (v. 24)
Another aspect of personality is that this demon gets frustrated. Verse 24 says, "When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says..." He wants to find something that satisfies him and gives him rest, but he has no rest in verse 24. And I love that phrase. This is exactly what we want to do - to frustrate all the plans and efforts of demons! But this is another evidence that demons are persons. As persons they can be frustrated.
Demons can travel, seek, and find (v. 24)
Another thing that shows that these demons are not just metaphors is that the demon of verse 24 travels: "When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest" He talks in the same verse about returning. Verse 25 says, "And when he comes…" That’s travel again. Verse 26, "Then he goes..." He is traveling to find other demons unoccupied and they also travel to find this man. If demons traveled back then, there is no reason to believe that they do not continue to travel now. Revelation even talks about them traveling from one country to another.
Just because we have had relatively little demonic activity in America in past centuries, is no indication that Satan is not powerfully present now. He travels. And all the indications are that America is being overrun by demons of every sort.
Verse 24 says they are seeking for a place where they can settle down. They are looking for some opportunity. They see a husband and wife arguing with each other heatedly, and they start rubbing their hands thinking, “Maybe this is an opportunity that we can use to make them ineffective.” And then the demon watches them asking forgiveness of each other, and he is crushed, and he thinks, “Rats! I’ve got to look for some other opportunity.” And he sees a child in rebellion, and he knows that rebellion, and after being confronted, the child asks forgiveness of God and father. And the demon travels on to another family looking for opportunities. Remember that’s what Satan was doing in Job 1 – he was wandering to and fro in the earth, and he noticed Job, but complained, “Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side?” There was no opportunity for him to attack. And today, there is even less opportunity since the accuser of the brethren has been cast out of heaven and can no longer accuse the brethren like he did Job. But I think the issue of demonic travel has been underestimated in some circles.
On more than one occasion when demons were cast out of people in Ethiopia (where I grew up), they said that they were going overseas. Converted witchdoctors indicated that this was happening back in the 60’s already. Reinforcements were being sent to attack America. Why? We don’t know. Maybe it was because America has sent so many missionaries to Africa, and Satan was trying to counteract that effort. We don’t know. But it is clear from this passage that at least some demons can travel.
Demons have separate identities (vv. 14,26)
Fourth, each demon has a separate identity. Verse 26 speaks of eight demons communicating with each other and strategizing on how to take on this man. Verse 14 speaks a demon who has a speciality – making people unable to speak. There are other specialities that demons have been assigned. For example, the Scriptures speak of demons of uncleanness and demons of deception. Hosea chapters 4 and 5 speak of demons that lead to adultery. There are demons who specialize in bringing disease or various types of temptations. There is a huge army of unseen spirits with careful organization. Lord willing, in a later blog I will outline some of these specialties in detail.
Demons have varying degrees of wickedness (v. 26)
Fifth, these demons have varying degrees of wickedness. Verse 26 says, "then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself." Just as there are varying levels of skill, understanding and wickedness among men, there are varying levels of skill, understanding and wickedness among demons. Don’t let your guard down. When one demon is unable to pierce the protections in your life, he may conscript others more able than himself.
There are demonic rulers and followers (vv. 15,17,18)
Sixth, these demons are organized in such a way that some are rulers, and others are followers. Verse 15 speaks of Beelzebul as being the ruler of the demons, and Christ not only acknowledges the reality of such a ruler, but that this ruler has an organized kingdom. We won’t go into the various levels of organization that the Scripture speaks of yet, but it is so well organized that it is a worldwide kingdom under Satan’s rule.
The very use of the term “kingdom” in Luke 11 implies large numbers, as does the word word Beelzebub, which means, “Lord of the flies.” In my Revelation series I give evidence that demons range in the upper billions to the trillions, and thus are perfectly likened to locusts that blot out the sun or to flies. In a later blog we may get into the specific Scriptures from which we can extrapolate such high figures. But for now it is sufficient to have these hints that the numbers are great.
I imagine Washington DC and State Capitols to be swarming with demons. We will later see evidence tht demons tend to strategically go after the power centers, and that is why universally you find far more wickedness and perversion in the capitals of states and nations than you do elsewhere. And each one of those demons is doing his utmost to attack Christ’s kingdom.
Demons have possessions (v. 24,21-22)
Demons have possessions that they seek to capture. Obviously the poor man in verse 14 was captured for a time. Verse 21 speaks of a demon who guards his own palace and who has goods. So he has territory and possessions.
Demons are elsewhere called "evil spirits" (Acts 19:12) or fallen "angels" (Rev. 12:7,9)
And then, finally, demons are called angels and evil spirits. To question the reality of demons would be to question the reality of any angels whatsoever. So I think we have to take the demonic seriously. It is real. I had one lady tell me that she didn’t like it when I preached on the demonic, because it scared her. But let me assure you that ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance can make you walk straight into Satan’s snares. And Paul said in 2 Corinthians 2:11, we are not ignorant of his devices. Well, we should not be either.
Next week we will take an introductory look at the work of these demons in opposing Christ's kingdom, using the same passage. Perhaps week by week we will build a sufficient foundation for demonolgy that we will have an adequate basis for spiritual warfare.
David Powlison, Power Encounters (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1995). While there is much helpful material in this book, it is clearly an overreaction. I plan to critique this book in a future post showing its positive contributions and where it dangerously fails. ↩
This has been a blind spot in even the writings of Jay Adams, a man I consider to be one of the greatest writers on practical theology in the last 100 years. Yet he believes there are no demons to harrass the saints. You can see his views set forth in Jay E. Adams, <em>The Big Umbrella</em> (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1972) ↩
“Barna Study of Religious Change Since 1991 Shows Significant Changes by Faith Group,” Barna Group, https://www.barna.org/barna-update/faith-spirituality/514-barna-study-of-religious-change-since-1991-shows-significant-changes-by-faith-group#.VRrWmY6_aW4. ↩
For example, Calvin opposing those "who babble of devils as nothing else than evil emotions” by proving the reality of the demonic. Institutes, 1.14.13–19. Other reformers had a great deal to say about the demonic. ↩
John Downame (with introduction by Joel R. Beeke), The Christian Warfare Against the Devil, World and Flesh Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground Christian Books republish of 1604 print). ↩